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038: Evolve Your SEO and Content Marketing with Ross Hudgens

Evolve Your SEO and Content Marketing with Ross Hudgens

When you think of content marketing, you probably think of blog articles and social media posts. But great content marketing goes beyond just words and includes the whole experience of copy, design, and frameworks. It’s all of the things that work in tandem with the writing. 

For Ross Hudgens, founder and CEO of Siege Media, the thing that has set his agency apart is its focus on good design. It’s what’s landed them bigger upmarket brands like Casper and Zillow. 

In this episode, Ross talked to us about how his agency puts an emphasis on UX design as well as how their approach to SEO has evolved over time to help their clients improve their rankings.

Show Topics

  • Evolve your SEO from link building to design
  • Build passive link assets
  • Sell brands on UX design
  • Match patterns in content
  • Content marketing is more than writing
  • Test content on social media first

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Key Takeaways

20:12 – Evolve your SEO from link building to design

Ross describes Siege Media as a design-focused content company. Using infographics for link building led to a more design-led approach and upmarket clientele. 

“In some ways it’s probably just evolved from what started to work. I wonder how many agencies actually deliberately figure this. They probably do figure it out over time, but I think we started as link building. And the component of that day one was like, infographics was this old school way of doing things. You give people shareable, visual elements and they’ll be more likely to link to you. So that was definitely an early impetus. And then I think that just progressed where we brought on photographers, videographers, illustrators and all that. And we still will do infographics, but it’s more like great visual assets on-page. And still the great copy and copy editing, but that will still be a big component of what we do.”

25:29 – Build passive link assets

Siege Media is focusing more on building passive link assets than infographics these days. These pieces are ones with a high view-to-link ratio that people would search for a specific answer.

“There’s a few common trends, but effectively it’s something with high view-to-link ratio. So there could be trend pieces, stats pieces, there’s random things that do this like calculators, which is where we have dev team as well. That’s a differentiator because we build interactives. Even stuff like a recent vertical I looked at, foods high in Vitamin D. Foods high in ‘blank’ is just a high passive link intent asset, where if you go out and build those early and you know how to rank for them, you’ll build a compounding snowball where you can get other things ranking. So it’s effectively just looking at the search volume and opportunity, but also keeping an eye on the ball of what are the page level links those have? And you can often find low-hanging fruit because people won’t notice them because they’re low search volume. It could have 200 searches a month, but those could all be reporters and bloggers looking to find a credible thing to add to that article. And if you rank for that, you just build an engine.”

27:05 – Find passive link opportunities

A way to find those passive link opportunities is to focus on things that are quick answers that could be copied and pasted in another article and linked back.

“A common one is quick answers. So it’s like if you’re searching something and you’re looking for a single sentence or framework that you could copy and paste, that’s probably a passive link asset. So examples are ‘cost’ is a framework that also is middle funnel and high search intent or a high link intent, because they’re like the cost to remodel a bathroom or something. Someone will link to that range and link to you. Definitions in the B2B space are just massive, where people are looking at jargon terms, like ‘what is content marketing?’ What is blank? And they’ll reference that definition a ton and link to you. So that’s a pretty common framework. Is there something they can copy and paste? If that’s the case, that could be a strong, passive link intent, especially if it’s not obvious in some way.”

34:06 – Sell brands on UX design

Ross says that the frameworks and design that support content are just as important as the writing itself.

“Something I see being increasingly important is UX design. So we’re doing more blog framework design and development for people, and it’s kind of an infant stage. Not infant stage, but it’s building product line for us. So trying to get clients to make changes to the design and getting those changes approved. Also getting clients to understand that this $50K upfront investment is worth doing when they don’t go in the door through that has been a challenge. And it’s something we’re kind of ironing out. Also ironing out the processes internally is not straightforward. But that’s something we think about is that it’s not just the writing. It’s not just the design. It’s also the framework where that stuff lives I feel like has overlapped with what we do. And everything gets more competitive and feels more important to have like every single check mark checked.”

35:42 – Match patterns in content

Find frameworks that improve your content, like AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action). It’s also helpful to look for patterns in high-performing content and apply them to your own.

“What is an acronym we can have that sort of works with training our team and something they can remember? So, there’s common things in stories our team is starting to remember over time. We use AIDA all the time and even our pitches. And ironically, hadn’t been using it as much as we could have been in copy in our articles. So effectively, that’s just sort of AIDA repositioned in a way, which was always share a preview, proof, and benefit in that early stage of copy. But I do think search is effectively pattern matching. So that’s probably my mindset as old school SEO is to see what users want and Google wants is pattern matching all the same things you see in the search result, the content, the copy. And I guess my mind kind of goes that direction with looking at what success factors common sites have and then trying to do those ourselves.”

40:20 – Evolve your SEO strategy

SEO strategies have had to change from pure link bait to passive link intent, search volume, and UX frameworks.

“It’s the slow transition of we would do more link bait, pure link bait stuff that was only link focused. That’s how we started. And wouldn’t associate that with search volume. They’d almost be these different things. Then we slowly migrated to this Venn diagram where we’re trying to get search volume in there. And then we started measuring the difference between the two and the economics of just getting things to rank and driving that long-term. And also it’s just probably plain to see that’s what Google wants, is passive link engine type sites compared to manual outreach. So that is kind of how it progressed. And then as it’s gotten more competitive, thinking about the layout updates and things of those nature to further optimize for that. The passive link intent topics upfront is more of what we do. That evolution has progressed over time. And trying to connect it to the site. I’ve seen a lot of businesses be built and declined because they were just thinking about links isolated, and we’re pulling it all together to be successful.” 

47:09 – Content marketing is more than writing

What Ross believes that many people might disagree with him about is that content marketing is more holistic than just the writing. It’s everything that works in tandem with the writing, including aesthetics.

“I do say a lot that we’re so design-focused. People see words as content marketing. I see content marketing as the whole experience of design, copy, et cetera. And for sure it’s less accurate and the copy gets more weighted in these very technical spaces. So I totally fully understand that. But I think there probably are a lot of people proceeding as if content marketing was just, ‘I need to go hire this freelance writer.’ And I don’t think that’s really what creates success most of the time, and especially in B2C.”

53:39 – Test content on social media first

Before spending hours on a 2,000-3,000- word blog post, create a smaller piece of content for Twitter or LinkedIn. If it resonates with people, do a deeper dive.

“I’ve actually done that a decent amount. So I will tweet something. It will connect and then I’ll then create a video off of it. Ironically, seems like the video doesn’t do as well. It’s probably because I’m re-promoting the same idea to a smaller audience, but that doesn’t mean in the context of your website that doesn’t have a strong value because clearly it resonated with someone originally. But it’s that re-promotion of the same idea that, it’s not that it does badly, but that’s just the one thing I’ve noticed with that. But I would agree, in general it seems like this halo effect of all this brand. I don’t think you, or really I, should be doing search-driven stuff. But for those 90 DR sites, maybe a little bit more.”

57:10 – Factors for picking an ideal client

Now that Siege Media is focusing on larger brands with the type of SEO work they do, they have certain qualities they look for in a client.

“We look at the TAM. So are they doing say $100,000 a month in search or more, or could they be doing that if they’re a brand new startup based on what the audience looks like? Did they recently raise funding and that exists? Probably would love to have people that have over 30 employees. Probably a hundred plus now, because under 30 is high risk. Not an affiliate site. We used to take those on, now we don’t take them on at all because they’re high churn risk. Are they going to win long-term? So we look at the product. Do we like it? What are the reviews of that company? Even looking at subtle things like what are the Glassdoor reviews of the site? Will they treat our team well? Those are signals that we’re also looking at, because team retention is just so important. And all those things, I think, directly relate to how some of these companies do in the long-term as it gets more important.”

1:06:36 – Prioritize fast ranking keywords at first

During the first month of working with a client, Siege focuses on the keywords that will rank fastest, and also shows link-building indicators so that a client can see quick progress.

“We do something called a keyword opposition of benefit analysis where we’re looking at the keyword difficulty in month one of say 100-200 topics depending on the vertical. That will allow us to prioritize things that hopefully can rank faster. So that’s part of the equation. There are leading indicators with link-building-driven content when we are doing manual outreach that they see we’re getting quality links. So they know something’s going to come down the pipe if that’s a leading indicator. We do say that you should be able to see ranking start to show, like page three, page two, that should start to happen even if you don’t have traffic right away. So that’s common and should happen hopefully pretty quickly. And you do expectation set in their initial proposal of traffic will be here. We don’t go as granular saying month two, you’re going to have this traffic. Because I think that would create a lot of stress for the team. We do point like 12 months out, this is where you should be. We will set link goals also like it’s going to ramp up like a graph up into that final number.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.